For anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of Afghanistan, hopes of something finally resembling peace in the mountain republic, especially under the Taliban’s brutal Sharia dictatorship, seem ridiculously far-fetched. Equally, Biden’s anti-war posturing fools no one in its bid to cover up 20 years of failed ‘nation-building’ and the embarrassment now consuming the West.

Not the Endgame

The game is not over yet, however. Though Biden remains unsure of how the end of all this will play out (the way, it seems, he was unsure of how any of this would play out), the truth is that there may not be an end. Though another war is not predetermined, it is no coincidence that Afghanistan has consistently been a battleground of superpowers or a stage for the world’s empires to flex their muscles, going back to Alexander the Great. Claiming the Taliban’s victory as the end of Afghan wars is like Fukuyama claiming the end of history in the 1990s; an empty platitude that has not aged well.

This last week may be the twilight of the last 40-or-so years of open conflict, whilst also making the 20-year interregnum since the last Taliban dictatorship seem like a complete waste of time, amongst other things. Yet the ‘Graveyard of Empires’ is merely entering a new period, a Pax Talibana maintained through a cessation of international hostilities and an explosion of domestic terror. The latter looks set to stay. I wouldn’t count on the former lasting too long, though.

Afghanistan and the ‘New Great Game’

Afghanistan is in the unfortunate position of being a geostrategically important region. This has historically exposed it to imperial posturing, most notably between Britain and Russia. Yet if geography was not enough, geology seals the deal. Like many war-torn countries, Afghanistan is rich in natural resources. Holding one of the largest lithium reserves in the world, Afghanistan is home to the essential component for the West’s Green Revolution. Further Western conflict with Afghanistan, as part of the neo-imperial bullying we have seen throughout the poorest parts of the world, is a real possibility. But the West is not alone in the region.

China is ahead of the game in Afghanistan and its recent Machiavellian openness to recognising the Taliban regime should concern the West. Far from radical Islamism becoming dominant in the Chinese Communist Party, ideological differences have been pragmatically set aside. China seeks the very same mineral as the West, necessary for its technology industry to facilitate double-digit growth and overtake the US economically. A proxy US-China war in Afghanistan is not beyond the realm of imagination.

The False Prodigals

The West must also question its moral role in Afghanistan, beyond plundering any economic benefits. Primarily, we need to question how our perception of the Taliban in the US and Britain has changed. The mainstream opinion was initially that the Taliban had changed, that they wanted to be accepted internationally, and that women’s rights would be protected (albeit with the important caveat of what is allowed under Sharia). General Nick Carter even went so far as to say the Taliban have a ‘code of honour’ and want to create an ‘inclusive’ country. It was just as disgusting to hear as it is to read. Tragically, this naivety has been blown out of the water by the Taliban’s actions just hours after entering Kabul, with door-to-door murders and even reports of a woman being set on fire for being a bad cook

Yet the importance for us in the West is that if victory would provoke a supposed change of heart from the Taliban, why not end the war ten years ago? Why start the war in the first place? It is foolishness to suppose the Taliban would change, just as it is to believe that this war was a feminist crusade by the very same people now leaving Afghan women in the hands of a death cult.

War for what?

Beyond the initial invasion, the war had little to do with combating Al-Qaeda. The excuse for remaining in Afghanistan morphed seamlessly from fighting Al-Qaeda into a feminist crusade, and then into a war on drugs. The truth is the war lacked definition or any clear goals. Only the military-industrial complex, that penetrates so deeply into American and British state, society and economy, knew the real reason. Certainly, no other interest group in Afghanistan has benefited from these 20 years of war. Mentioning the tragedy imposed on the Afghans requires too gruesome detail.  But the thousands of dead and injured Western soldiers at enormous cost to the taxpayer lays bare this nonsense, all whilst Lockheed Martin and friends profited shamelessly. Were the last 20 years a waste of time, resources and life? For us yes, for the hawks no.

Herein we see the real reason for the war, one that has not changed and only promises profiteering in future conflicts, both from exploitation and arms deals. Certainly, with the Taliban back in power, the same pretext for war exists as it did 20 years ago. Likewise, the financial motives are alive and well. The question remains for Britain whether we want to continue as the junior partner in the ‘Special Relationship’, following America’s destructive quest. 

End the Special Relationship

A future conflict in Afghanistan seems inevitable. Britain and Europe more broadly must not sacrifice their citizens, their integrity, or their independence for America’s sinking ship. Nor must they impose more misery on war-torn countries like Afghanistan. The Fall of Kabul has been falsely compared to the Fall of Saigon. In Saigon, America faced a competent enemy with the backing of the communist powers: USSR and China. In Kabul, the US could not even beat a ragtag Islamist militia.

With now higher stakes and a more competent enemy, war will return with a vengeance. The hubristic military-industrial complex will be in for a greater, more embarrassing shock when it returns for round two. This time, American imperialism must not have the backing of the international community, if we are to avoid another calamitous 20 years.

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